Critics are complementary to Architecture, and they have become a determining and significant part of that large spectrum that this immense production covers be it from design to philosophy to making and to even documentation. Each delineated era within Architecture is followed by a larger impression that this body of work creates. 

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One such impression about Modernism that has been formulated over the period is that it encourages the denial of evolved senses and embraces an unnatural, inhuman built form. But there stood a definite exception in this modernist era, Charlotte Perriand. With an extremely generous dimension, she directed herself towards Humanistic Architecture, that is the spaces as the art of living for everyone. 

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Charlotte Perriand © Domus

Life

Often recognized to be the collaborator of Le Corbusier but Charlotte Perriand stands beyond and before that identity. An architect and designer, known for creating a rich body of work in the spectrum of Architecture, Urban Planning, and Furnishing including Painting and Sculpting. She was the center of social changes throughout the 20th century. She was a pioneer of modernity with an extensively new vision. 

Born on October 24, 1903, in Paris. Charlotte is best known for her iconic 20th-century furniture that includes a chair, two-size sofas, and an ottoman. It all started when Perriand’s drawing qualities caught the attention of her junior-high-school art instructor which later encouraged her to enroll in the Ecole de L’Union Centrale de Arts Décoratifs (School of the Central Union of Decorative Arts). Not convinced by the style taught her at school which combined woodcraft with Beaux-Art style, she retrieved innovative methods in the machine age aesthetic and other than emerging machines of that time. Within a few years, Charlotte Perriand became a prominent name in the world of design. In 1927, she exhibited at the Salon d’Automne her Bar sous le Toit (the bar under the roof) made of aluminum, glass, and chrome. The piece of work so impressed the master of modernism Le Corbusier, and he invited her to be his partner. 

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Bar sous le Toit © The Architectural Review 

Interestingly, just a month ago when this happened, Charlotte first visited the studio of Corbusier and he told her that: “Sorry, but we don’t embroider cushions here”, and shut the door in her face. Later, she worked alongside Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret for more than 10 years and many more best artists of that time including Fernand Leger, Pablo Picasso, and Alexander Calder.

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(L-R) Fernand Léger, Charlotte Perriand, Le Corbusier, Albert Jeanneret, Pierre Jeanneret, Matila Ghyka in Athens, fourth CIAM congress, 1933  © AChP

Philosophy 

Her idea of design was coherent, she wanted to create interesting places through elemental spaces where everyone would love to live. Her beliefs were the factors that would determine the needs of people who will occupy the spaces she will design and her interiors were based on the intentions to make people’s life easier. From the early 1930s, she was engaged within political affairs, she moved closer to the communist party. 

To her, the career of an architect was one of engagement; this made her focus on communist principles instead of developing an aspiration towards luxury and grand houses designed solely for the upper classes. 

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Essential Happiness, New Pleasures’ by Fernand Leger and Charlotte Perriand © FinanciTimes 

These beliefs motivated her to design and construct products that were accessible for  everyone, or at least a larger community.

Charlotte worked out a dialogue between architecture, furniture, and the visual arts. She asked Fernand Leger to create visual spaces between cultural spaces. She studied minimal habitat extensively, transforming small spaces into places that provide maximum inhabitants a sense of comfort. In and around the years 1931 to 1933, she studied nature to observe it. And gradually, renewed her artwork. 

Her furniture drew inspiration from nature. As she turned a table out of a tree trunk by simply adding legs to it. Another example is the “fan” table, which she designed in 1972. It was solid wood, simple and raw that illustrated dialogue with nature. 

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Interior of Le Corbusier’s Unité d’habitation (1929), designed by Perriand _AChP

Her essential period was her time in Japan when she was invited to oversee production nationwide of the applied arts in housing. She created a huge exhibition in Tokyo and Osaka. When she came back after 6 years, she returned to France and began working on Le Corbusier’s Unité d’ Habitation in Marseille. Her synthesis of art called into question the habitual boundaries between fine artsthe useless or pure contemplation and the decorative arts of functional objects. She also questioned if works of art were solely meant for art museums or a collector’s apartment.

To her, art was the art of living and all cultures can enrich one another, she believed that diversity of culture could bring out fundamentally modern preoccupation. She shared Lefebvre’s humanist and Marist vision of equality with her synthesis in her capacity of design and creation. 

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Inspired by Art Deco, the machine aesthetic, industrial prefabrication, and organicism, Charlotte Perriand became one of the most iconic furniture designer of the 20th century, a free spirit but was often overshadowed by her famous male collaborators.

References 

  1. Ft.com. 2021. How Charlotte Perriand’s designs made the world modern. [online] Available at: <https://www.ft.com/content/b38619a0-df9b-11e9-b8e0-026e07cbe5b4>
  2. 2021. [online] Available at: <https://www.fondationlouisvuitton.fr/en/events/charlotte-perriand-inventing-a-new-world>
  3. Decor Tips. 2021. Charlotte Perriand and Her Contribution to Modern Design – Decor Tips. [online] Available at: <https://decortips.com/homes/charlotte-perriand-and-her-contribution-to-modern-design/> 
  4. Design Museum. 2021. Charlotte Perriand: The Modern Life. [online] Available at: <https://designmuseum.org/exhibitions/charlotte-perriand-the-modern-life> 
Author

An Architecture and Design student, Aastha spends most her time studying fascinating architectural spaces. Every building tells a story, she says. When she's not reading about them, she's asking existential questions on pretty much everything. Life, Time and evenTruth. You name it.

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